The Indiana Pacers took a step closer to the playoffs by putting together one of their best offensive performances of the season against a title contender which was resting its star.
They'll attempt to clinch a berth against another Eastern Conference power which may also decide to give its stars a breather Friday night when they visit the Toronto Raptors.
Indiana's magic number for securing a spot in the postseason is down to one with four games to play after Chicago lost to Miami on Thursday. The Pacers (42-36) are one-half game ahead of Detroit for seventh place in the East and reaching the playoffs seems a near-certainty with their final three contests against also-rans Brooklyn, New York and Milwaukee.
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Even a date in Toronto in a possible playoff preview may not be as daunting if the Raptors (52-26) opt to rest or limit the minutes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Thursday's 95-87 loss in Atlanta locked Toronto into second place in the East heading into the second half of this back-to-back.
The Raptors rested Lowry and DeRozan the last time they played the second of two games in as many days, falling 102-95 at San Antonio on Saturday. Toronto had averaged 110.2 points in winning its previous six in the second half of a back-to-back.
The Pacers took full advantage of facing a Cleveland team resting LeBron James on Wednesday, scoring season highs of 36 first-quarter points and 70 first-half points in a 123-109 win. Paul George scored 29 for Indiana, which made 16 of 31 3-pointers.
''Even without LeBron, they still have two All-Stars out there,'' Solomon Hill said after scoring a season-high 15 points. '' ... It's a team we could see in the playoffs. (Every win) is a building block.''
The Pacers have averaged 110 points in reeling off three straight wins after potentially damaging home losses to Orlando and the Bulls.
"I think we're playing well at the right time," said George, who is 8 of 19 from 3-point range in his last three games. "It just has to continue. We all feel great about this win and the streak we're on, winning in our past three games. It's about capitalizing on this moment now."
They'll now try to capitalize on playing a Toronto team which is in a bit of an offensive funk.
Losers of two of three, the Raptors are averaging 94.3 points in four games this month after averaging 107.3 in their previous four. Lowry and DeRozan combined for 29 points on 13-of-39 shooting Thursday, with each playing 34 minutes.
"You got to play with force in this league," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "(The Hawks) are in playoff mode and we weren't in the first quarter."
DeMarre Carroll returned from right knee surgery after missing 41 games and finished with five points in 14 minutes. He started 22 of 23 games before his injury, averaging 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"It was great to get him back out there to get him in rhythm," DeRozan said.
DeRozan and Lowry each scored 28 and Bismack Biyombo set a franchise record with 25 rebounds in helping the Raptors to a 101-94 win in overtime at Indiana on March 17. DeRozan, who totaled 14 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, had 25 in a 106-99 win over the Pacers in their season opener Oct. 28, their fourth consecutive home victory in the series.